On the face of it; and from a home nation perspective, England should not encounter too many issues when faced with Russia, Slovakia and Wales in Group B of the European Championships.
The interesting part of the group comes with these other three sides, which are all in with a fighting chance of progressing from one of the more competitive groups at this year’s tournament.
Over the next couple of pages, this article looks at the five players in Group B that could make their mark on the upcoming European Championship.
Artem Dzyuba – Russia
Zenit St Petersburg’s Artem Dzyuba has; by anyone’s standard, had a stormer of a season over in the Russian Premier League. In his first year at the club, he ended the year as top goal-scorer in all competitions, firing in 13 in the league and six Champions League goals as Zenit reached the round of 16.
With only 16 international appearances to his name, the Russian striker is fairly new on the scene and will be looking to cement his position as a regular starter by putting in a good shift across the tournament.
Dzyuba is cut from a similar cloth to Ibrahimovic in terms of his size, acting as a big target man up-front and leading the line well for Russia, and what he lacks in skill he makes up for in strength and physicality. This ability to hold the ball up at the front of the pitch will allow Russia’s wider players such as Zenit team-mate Oleg Shatov to join the attack.
Another plus side for Russia is the aerial threat of Dzyuba, who will always be a danger from set pieces with his height. In tight games against Wales and Slovakia, this could prove crucial if Russia are to go any further than the group stages.
This year there is a genuine opportunity for Russia to get out of the group and exceed expectations, and if they do, you can bet on Dzyuba lending a helping hand.
Ashley Williams – Wales
It is a fair assumption to make, that for Wales to do well in this tournament, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale will have to be in sensational form and carry them out of the group stages, but this wouldn’t be entirely correct.
The cliché of there never being a ‘one man team’ can be applied here, and as good a player as Bale is he can’t do everything on a pitch – and this is where captain Ashley Williams may prove his worth.
Swansea’s solid centre-back hasn’t had the best season in the Premier League but his importance to his country cannot be understated, and it’s this experience and knowledge of England’s top league that may be useful for the huge match-up against England. With Williams playing against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy week in, week out, he will know what to expect from them a lot more than against the strikers from Russia and Slovakia.
If Wales are to progress far, Williams will have to take leadership of the side and ensure that the side doesn’t get carried away by their first ever appearance at the European Championships. They cannot let the occasion get the better of them.
Having said that, throughout qualifying they retained their composure to finish the job off, and after finishing just below Belgium in their group there’s absolutely no reason why the Welsh can’t spring another shock on the international football scene.